Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Another ITERation Of Delay

I didn't write anything about it at the time, but the sad non-news of Japanese rejection of the European ITER siting (dated February 2) certainly causes me to wonder whether anyone really comprehends just how much the world is going to need fusion in the coming years and months. Briefly, the ITER fusion research reactor needs to go somewhere, and there are two candidate sites chosen for it: Cadarache, France, and Rokkasho-mura, Japan; wrangling over the two sites has gone on now for over two years. The fighting is now so intractable that both the European and American/Japanese sides have contingency plans to proceed alone (see entries dated Feb. 11, 2005, and Nov. 26, 2004).

The ongoing delays with ITER show in stark relief the problems with government funded science: the apparent politicization that so often goes along with it. The official line from Condoleeza Rice is that Jack Marburger, Science Advisor to the President, claims Japan as the best site for ITER on technical grounds. However, we may cite cases where the Bush administration has been all too happy to step on scientific advice when it conflicts with political interests. Examples of this include refusing to pay for expenses to a conference on suicide prevention unless the title of the conference stripped the words "gay", "lesbian", "bisexual", and "transgender"; scientists pressured to change study conclusions when they don't align with administration policies; and distortion of results and "wide-ranging [efforts] ... to prevent the appearance of advice that might run counter to the administration's political agenda". So French charges that the US favors a Japanese site for ITER as retaliation for France's rejection of the Iraq war are hardly farfetched.

The other problem with government funding is that ultimately it is dependent on political will, which can defocus economy, a necessary consideration for commercialization. For that reason alone, ITER and its successors may never get off the ground, and it may be that acoustic inertial containment fusion, simply from the low cost of the materials involved, wins the day.

Labels: ,